Think back a little more than a year ago, to the political campaigns of 2004. One of the hottest issues in presidential debates and congressional campaigns was the threat to traditional marriage posed by gay people seeking the right to wed.
At the time, President Bush and others were warning that the threat could be averted only by the most serious step available under our political system, amending the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage outright.
You may also remember how heated and emotional some of the rhetoric became. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and probably the most influential of conservative religious leaders, reflected the tone quite well in his April 2004 newsletter.
"Barring a miracle, the family as it has been known for more than five millennia will crumble, presaging the fall of Western civilization itself" unless the U.S. Constitution is amended, Dobson wrote, charging that for more than 40 years, gay Americans have pursued a master plan "that has had as its centerpiece the utter destruction of the family."
That kind of rhetoric had its desired effect, driving conservative voters to the polls in large numbers, helping to re-elect President Bush and increasing Republican representation in Congress and state legislatures.
But a year later, it seems pertinent to ask: Have you heard or read a single word about a federal gay-marriage amendment since the election?
No, you have not, because this supposedly all-important issue has vanished from the political landscape. Judging from the available evidence, this dire threat to marriage and family, this looming peril to the very core of American society, has simply disappeared as a concern. Certainly, nobody's talking about it or trying to do anything about it any longer.
In the U.S. House, which Republicans control, a proposed constitutional amendment was introduced in March, buried in a subcommittee by April, and hasn't been heard from since. A House bill to strip federal courts of jurisdiction over gay marriage met a similar fate, banished to the subcommittee on courts, the Internet and intellectual property in April and not touched since.
In the Senate, also controlled by Republicans, two proposed marriage amendments were introduced early this year, referred to the Judiciary Committee and then all but forgotten. One of the measures did get a subcommittee hearing last month, but only at the request of a senator who opposes the measure.
And that's the sum total of congressional action.
A cynical person might look at that evidence and suggest that maybe the gay-marriage controversy was never real in the first place. Maybe it was just a product, like soap or toilet paper, that was manufactured by politicians and then sold by certain media outlets and interest groups. Maybe those politicians never had any intention of trying to pass such an amendment and were merely playing their supporters for fools.
And maybe, just maybe, it wasn't just politicians who were playing that cynical game.
This week, when I visited Dobson's Focus on the Family Web site, I found not a single mention of gay marriage on its home page. I clicked on the four Web pages listed under "Public Policy" and still no mention of an issue that a year earlier had dominated the organization's time and energy.
I even read through Dobson's 2005 monthly newsletters; he has made no mention of the federal gay marriage amendment since January.
Rest assured, though, a new dire threat has arisen to take its place. In Congress, on Fox News and yes, on the Web site of Focus on the Family, all are now atwitter about the ongoing war against Christmas, part of the nefarious liberal plot to eventually ban Christianity altogether.
Basically, what you're seeing is a retail operation, and gay marriage was last year's inventory. It has been rotated off the shelves, at least for now, to make way for a holiday-themed product in exactly the same way that Home Depot removes inventory from its garden section to make space for Christmas trees.
But the move is only temporary. Congressional Quarterly, the nonpartisan publication that covers Congress, notes that GOP leaders are expected to revive the marriage amendment and bring it to the floor for a vote next year, "in advance of the midterm elections."
Because you can't keep a big seller like that off the shelves forever.
Jay Bookman is the deputy editorial page editor.
© 2005 Atlanta Journal-Constitution